Sigulda New Castle history
From the 11th to the 13th century, the Sigulda area was ruled by the Gauja Livs (Livonians) who erected wooden fortifications on the summits of hill forts. The first stone building was built by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword between 1207 and 1209. At the beginning of the 17th century, during the time of the Polish Swedish Wars, the Livonian Order castle was laid waste and the castle territory was transformed into a manor that in the 18th century became part of the Vidzeme province.
In 1780, the manor became the property of the Borch family. In 1867, Alexander Borch’s daughter Olga married Prince Dmitry Kropotkin. Part of her dowry was the Sigulda manor. The wedding was followed by the construction of the Kropotkins’ summer residence the Sigulda New Castle, from 1878 to 1881. In charge of the work were master builder Jānis Menģelis from Cēsis and the owner of the Jaundreļļi estate, Pēteris Kūlis. Local craftsmen were hired to do the work and materials also came from the nearby surroundings. As the patron of Sigulda, princess Olga Kropotkina managed to get the Riga-Pskov railway line to go through the town and the creation of a spa by supporting the development of tourist attractions and accommodation services.
In 1893 Olga’s son prince Nikolai Kropotkin took over the running of the castle and its territory. He also continued his mother’s work installing a bobsleigh and luge track, a mineral water plant and promoting motor tourism.
During the First World War in 1917, Sigulda found itself on the front line between the German and Russian armies and the castle was looted. The declaration of independence of Latvia was followed by an agrarian reform, and in 1922 the Kropotkin family lost ownership of the castle.
The government granted the castle to the Latvian Writers and Journalists Trade Union who began renovation of the building in 1923. The union established a guest house, event rooms and a recreation complex. In 1934 the castle became the property of the Latvian Press Society and in 1937, major reconstruction work was carried out according to the design of architect Alfrēds Birkhāns. Not long after the occupation of Latvia, the castle became a retreat for the Council of People’s Commissars of the Latvian SSR – the Latvian government, but in 1953 it became a sanatorium for the Central Council of the LSSR trade unions.
In 1993, after the restoration of independence, the Sigulda town council took over the running of the castle, using it for administration purposes but in 2003 the castle became the home of the Sigulda district municipality. From 2017 to 2021, restoration of the castle was carried out under the management of the district municipality. The interior, finishing and facades created in 1937 were restored, maintaining the planning of the load – bearing structures and the building itself. During the rebuilding, a staircase in the castle tower connecting the first floor to the basement. After the restoration, an exhibition on the history of the castle has also been arranged.
The 1920s to the 1940s stand out in Sigulda’s history when the New Castle gained recognition as the Writers’ Castle, attracting the attention of Latvia’s intelligentsia and creative circles. The castle had hosted various celebrities since the times of the nobility, but it became particularly famous for its literary evenings, balls, meetings, congresses and anniversaries organised by prominent cultural workers. In the summer, the Latvian literati would come to the castle for recreation and stay in the guest house for some time.
Well-known Latvian writers have been castle guests, including the likes of Kārlis Skalbe, Aleksandrs Čaks, Jānis Akuraters and Rainis. The New Castle was not only a favourite of writers, it was also visited by foreign minister Vilhelms Munters, the publisher of the Jaunākās Ziņas (Latest News) newspaper Emīlija Benjamiņa, theatre diva Lilija Štengele and other public figures.
New Castle interior
Sigulda New Castle is an architectural monument of national importance, which after the reconstruction project of architect Alfrēds Birkhāns in 1937, was considered to be the most magnificent writers’ castle in Europe.
During the reconstruction, a unique interior of national romanticism was created in the castle, which survives to this day having been restored between 2017 and 2021. The 1937 reconstruction was organised by the Press Society and financed by the state and donations. The work was carried out by the company of engineer Hermanis Liepiņš that had built the Ķemeri sanatorium in 1936.
The castle interior acquired its high value from Latvian artists – Niklāvs Strunke, Vilis Vasariņš, Pēteris Teodors Ozoliņš, Kārlis Sūniņš, Ludolfs Liberts, Elerts Treilons.